f The Wittenberg Door: January 2014

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Disappointed by Jesus?

Using a fictional conversation between Joseph Barsabbas (lost the coin toss to Matthias, Acts 1:26) and a disappointed young man, the Desiring God blog offers some insightful comments about disappointment. Here’s how it begins:

How does God want us to deal with the emotion we call disappointment?

Joseph Barsabbas was disappointed by Jesus. Joseph was a candidate to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve, but when the lot was cast it “fell on Matthias” (Acts 1:26). I’ll bet that was a blow.

The Bible never mentions Joseph again. But tradition says he later became the Bishop of Eleutheropolis (32 miles southwest of Jerusalem) and died a martyr. Assuming that’s accurate, imagine what Joseph may have learned about disappointment and how he might have counseled a disappointed young disciple twenty years later.


Bishop Joseph looked at his sullen disciple. “You’re disappointed.”

“Yes,” replied Primus.


The answer seemed obvious. Primus suspected a teaching moment. “I was just hoping for the appointment to the Antioch church that Asher received.”

“Well, that’s the occasion of your disappointment. My question is why are you disappointed?”

You can read the rest of the conversation here.

--The Catechizer


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Preach the Gospel, Use Words if Necessary

Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary

The above quote, attributed to Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1326), is sometimes used by Christians to spur other believers on to works of service. The thought being that we show the gospel through our deeds. The quote has made its way onto tee shirts, coffee cups, bumper stickers, and has even been used in church advertisements. Here’s an example of its use by one Christian ministry [italics in original]:

May we take to heart the wisdom of Saint Francis of Assisi who stated that he was compelled to preach the gospel at all times, in all places, with all his might even if it meant resorting to words. People must see the gospel in action before they can hear the good news.

The quote, whether actually said by Assisi or not, fits in with early Roman Catholic Mysticism, and more broadly with Rome’s soteriological view. But it does not fit with biblical Christianity: Contrary to the “Use words if necessary” part, the gospel can only be preached through words. The message of the doing and dying of Christ is not proclaimed though my works (I am not the gospel). Regardless of how many old ladies I help cross the street, or of how many poor I feed, or of any other good work I might perform, none of these actions will answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Only words can do that.

This is in nowise meant to discount our responsibility to be, as Paul calls us, ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), and to have our works follow our faith (Js. 2:14-17). But it is the faith that comes first, and that only comes through the working of the Spirit via the preached word (Rom. 10:14-17).

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

C.S. Lewis and the Devil

Constantine, Dogma, even in South Park, Hollywood is want to portray a holy cold-war between God and Satan—Two superpowers, standing toe-to-toe, waiting for the other guy to blink. For the Biblically literate this description is absurd. Unfortunately, not many, even among Christians, are Biblically literate. Consequently, caricatures of the devil fill our culture and minds. (Remember the little red guy with the pitch fork and horns?)

Prior to being published as a book, C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters appeared as a series in the UK paper Guardian in 1941. The story, which is in the form of letters between an inexperienced demon and his uncle, prompted questions regarding Lewis’ belief in the Devil. Does this academician and Oxford don really believe in a personal Devil? Does he believe that Satan is God’s opposite equal? John A. Murray, headmaster of Fourth Presbyterian School in Potomac, Md, answers this question and more over at the Opinion Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

When asked about "his belief in the Devil," Lewis addressed the question in a thought-provoking way in his preface to a revised edition of "Screwtape" in 1960: "Now, if by 'the Devil' you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No."

That is, Lewis did not believe in the false theology and caricatures of the devil that have developed over the centuries—whether through art, literature or even today's sports mascots (think Duke and Arizona State).

As Lewis explained, "There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite. . . . The proper question is whether I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to God. . . . Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael."

In his original preface written from Magdalen College at Oxford on July 5, 1941, Lewis warned of what he called "the two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils." One error "is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them." Lewis concluded that the devils "are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer


Monday, January 27, 2014

Why We Argue – Part 3 (Conclusion)

As mentioned in the last post, we argue because we are instructed to defend the faith. Many scriptures could be cited; but, for the purpose of this post, we’re going to focus our attention on one verse: 1 Peter 3:15.


Scripture not only instructs us to argue for the faith, but it also tells us in what manor we are to argue.

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
(1 Pet. 3:15)

Three things I want to point out:

  1. Never surrender your ultimate starting point: Scripture

  2. Be prepared

  3. Be a good ambassador of Christ

1. Never Surrender Your Ultimate Starting Point: Scripture

. . . sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts . . .

. . . And I am talking about the assertion of what has been delivered to us from above in the Sacred Scriptures.”

(Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

Whether teaching or arguing—or, for that matter, whatever we do—we must never surrender our commitment to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). That means our arguments, as well as the manor in which we make them, must be based solidly on Scripture (1 Cor. 1:18–25).

2. Be prepared

. . . always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you . . .

Here Peter tells us to always be ready. I get a picture in my mind of a soldier waiting to be called into battle: his gear’s packed; his guns are loaded; and he’s been thoroughly trained.

We must have the same posture as the soldier—ready for action. Our weapons, of course, are of a different sort. Paul tells us of them in Eph. 6. Consider the sword of the Spirit, God’s word. By taking it up we can destroy “. . . speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God . . .” (2 Cor. 10:5).

God’s word is not only our most powerful weapon; it’s also the very sure foundation upon which we stand. For this reason we must consider the example of those in Berea:

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
(Acts 17:11)

They were daily in God’s word studying to see if what Paul and Silas were telling them was true. The only way we can fare well in battle is to be grounded in God’s word—to know the truth.

The next thing we must do is know how to defend the truth. This is where knowing good tactics and how to argue comes in. I’m going to recommend to you two resources to get you started:

  • Always Ready, Directions for Defending the Faith, by Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen—This is a first-rate book on defending the faith. Dr. Bahnsen was a master debater and a fine theologian. Regardless of your education or knowledge of apologetics (defense of the faith) or philosophy, this easy to understand book is beneficial to all.

  • Stand to Reason to Reason (STR) is, in my opinion, the best apologetics organization out there when it comes to tactics. Through essays, books, tapes, conferences, and a fantastic radio broadcast, STR will help you become a good ambassador of Jesus Christ.

3. Be a Good Ambassador of Christ

. . . yet with gentleness and reverence.

We must always remember that we are ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)—we represent Him as authorized messengers. This is a fearful thing. For, by our words and actions, we either tell the truth about Christ, or we misrepresent Him. To be a faithful representative, we must engage our opponent gently and respectfully. This means that we use our arguments to persuade, not to pummel. This also means that we don’t call or opponent names; we don’t talk over him; and we don't misrepresent his views.

Remember: The gospel is offensive enough; let’s not add to it!

--The Catechizer


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Christians and Divorce

Unfortunately, divorce is becoming more-and-more common among Christians, almost rivaling the divorce-rate of unbelievers. When we think of Biblical reasons for divorce adultery and desertion immediately jump to mind. But what exactly constitutes either adultery or desertion? Pastor Bill Smith explores these questions at The Aquila Report.

As part of his discussion he provides us with a helpful summary of the topic in a question and answer format. Here’s a portion:

Where does God teach about divorce?
Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Malachi 2:13-16; Matthew 5:31,32; Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.

Does God allow divorce?
Divorce is always a tragedy. It is contrary, as Jesus teaches us, to God’s intent for marriage. The Roman Catholic Church does not allow divorce, hence the complicated system for annulment, which is taken to mean that the marriage never existed. However, Protestants have generally taught that, because marriage takes place between sinners in a fallen world, there are some circumstances when divorce is allowed.

When does God allow divorce?
There are two circumstances. One is sexual sin (adultery) that breaks the one-flesh marriage bond. The other is desertion (abandonment) that cannot be remedied because the one who leaves refuses to return.

What sexual sins constitute grounds for divorce?
The Greek word Jesus uses is porneia. It is a general word for sexual immorality. Here I quote from the position paper approved by the PCA General Assembly in 1988: “We agree that porneia refers to ‘sexual immorality.’ But sexual immorality could be understood to include all sorts of sexual sins… To be sure, these are sins that impinge against the one-flesh relationship, but they do not necessarily break it. We ask then, ‘What does Jesus mean by porneia in this passage as the grounds for divorce?’ We believe Jesus intended porneia to be understood in a more limited way, as referring to those external sexual actions which would clearly break the one-flesh relationship…we must distinguish between those sexual sins that clearly break the one-flesh union and those that don’t. (Those that break the one-flesh union [do so] precisely because they involve sexual union with a being other than one’s marriage partner, i.e, they amount to adultery.)

Other acts of sexual immorality do not as clearly serve to break the one-flesh relationship… they do not unmistakably break the one-flesh relationship; but if a person becomes so obsessed with them that they become a substitute for fulfilling the conjugal rights of the spouse, then they could be understood to break the one-flesh union……some sexual sins may hurt the marriage union without breaking it. But when the sin becomes externalized in such a way that it becomes a substitute for the one-flesh relation with one’s spouse, then the Session may judge it as being the equivalent of porneia.”

What is desertion?
“Several considerations incline us to agree with those… who have maintained that desertion can occur as well by imposition of intolerable conditions as by departure itself…(Note: The only possibility considered in the report is physical violence which leads to the abused person’s leaving, because the abusing partner forces the abused partner to flee the home for physical safety.) We are quick to add, however, that the list of sins tantamount to desertion cannot be very long. To qualify, a sin must have the same extreme effect as someone’s abandonment of his spouse… The Bible gives no justification for divorce based on merely inward, emotional, and subjective reasons. Even if we find justification for interpreting desertion in a broader sense …(it) must be broadened only within the boundaries of serious objective acts of desertion. (It) must not be interpreted in any way that opens the floodgates to divorces based on subjective reasons, such as ‘irreconcilable differences,’ ‘emotional separation,’ ‘loss of affection,’ or the like.

There is often great pain involved in marriage, and God intends for people to work through the pain and learn to love even when we are not loved by the other. Emotional problems in and of themselves are not Biblical grounds for divorce. And the elders of Christ’s church must not surrender to worldly pressures and allow that which God does not allow…”

You can read the rest here.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, January 25, 2014

New Calvinists: Revivers or Revisers?

J.F. Jones of Faith Presbyterian Church of Anchorage makes an interesting distinction about the so-called “New Calvinists”: Some are revivers and others are revisers. Here’s what he means:

Some of these contemporary Calvinists believe that New Calvinism is new because it is better than the old Calvinism. This is certainly the position of men like Mark Driscoll. In this regard, Old Calvinism needs some revising. But there are others who believe that New Calvinism is new simply because the Old Calvinism has returned from a period of latency. This is the position of men like Kevin DeYoung and Ligon Duncan. In this regard, Old Calvinism doesn’t need revising, it just needs reviving. The former believe that the rediscovered Old Calvinism needs revamping for today’s world. The latter believe that the rediscovered Old Calvinism needs republishing for today’s world.

To tie things together, New Calvinism is, necessarily, . . . eclectic! It is broad enough so that some of the historic high-points of Calvinism can be revived (the sovereignty of God, God’s initiative in conversion, complementarianism), while some need only be gently revised (baptism, the Lord’s Table, covenant theology, church government, confessionalism). So, for instance, Adam Omelianchuk can list a dozen New Calvinist pastors and we instantly see that they represent a spectrum of views on worship, ecclesiology, charismatic gifts, evangelism, eschatology, and baptism. Now, we could contend that Old Calvinism itself was just as multifaceted, but this would be stretching things a bit; the Old Calvinists may not have been die-stamped from the factory, but there was more unity than there is in this broader New Calvinism movement. Ultimately, I believe that a helpful lens for understanding the New Calvinism is to determine who is a reviser and who is a reviver. How can you tell? I don’t think it’s the “Jesus was a Calvinist” t-shirt. Instead, I think the revisers tend to edit Old Calvinism ecclesiology, while the revivers keep it unchanged.

You can read the entire explanation here.

--The Catechizer


Friday, January 24, 2014

Why We Argue – Part 2

Continued from part one . . .

Ultimately, the reason we argue is because Scripture so enjoins us, via both example and instruction. In this post we’ll take a look at two examples of biblical argumentation, and we’ll also see what we can learn from them.


“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” So says the Apostle Paul in the first verse of 1 Corinthians 11. Provided below are two examples of biblical arguing.

  • Acts 7
    Acts 7 records Stephen’s defense (apology) before the Sanhedrin. Stephen is brought before the council due to a charge of blasphemy (Acts 6:11). But instead of answering the charge, Stephan rehearses Israel’s history from Abraham to Christ. The reason he argued this way was not to acquit himself, but to show them their sin, especially the sin of betraying and murdering the Righteous One (vrs. 52); he also rehearses the sins of their fathers.

  • Acts 17
    In Acts 17 we find Paul in Athens being provoked by the Spirit because the city was given over to idols. Paul responded by . . .

. . . reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.
(vrs. 17)

Some of those with whom he was reasoning (arguing) were Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. They invited him to the Areopagus (Mars Hill) to hear him further. Seizing the opportunity, Paul, beginning with creation, provides a step-by-step argument for Christ and the coming judgment.

Consider Your Audience

In Acts 7, Stephen is providing an argument to the biblically informed. While in the Areopagus address of Acts 17, Paul is providing an argument to the uninformed. The manner in which they argue differs because the audience differs.

  • The Churched
    In Acts 7, Stephen is talking to those who have been brought-up in the teaching of the Old Testament their whole lives. Therefore, it was appropriate for him to use the language of the “church.” When Stephan spoke of the promise to Abraham, or the covenant of circumcision, or of the Angel of the Lord, they understood what he meant—they spoke the same “language.”

  • The Unchurched
    When addressing the Athenians, if Paul would have started with Abraham and then moved on to covenants and sacrifices, he would have lost his audience—the message would not have gotten through. Instead, because of the audience, Paul established a point of contact (TO THE UNKNOWN GOD). Then, beginning with God’s creation of heaven and earth, he proclaimed the true God and the upcoming judgment (i.e., here’s who God is, and here’s where you stand).

America Today

America is a very different place than it used to be. Preachers of old could rely on the fact that just about everyone had some experience with the church. We cannot make that assumption today. Therefore, we must tailor—not water down—our message.

Watch out for Christianese!

When speaking with someone who doesn’t know the lingo, take greater care to give explanations. Also watch your starting point: If the person doesn’t know that we were originally created good and in right relationship with God, he might get the wrong idea if you start with the Fall and think God created us evil. Moreover, the message of redemption won’t make sense because he wouldn’t understand that we are being restored back to something.

Stay tuned for part 3!

--The Catechizer


Thursday, January 23, 2014

What You Need to Know About the First 7 Church Councils

I didn’t grow up in the church, so when I became a believer I came in cold. Once I did start going to church I fell in with a bad theological crowd: Word of Faith Pentecostals. After six years of binding, loosing, and demon chasing, I realized that I didn’t know squat about Christianity. That’s where the creeds, confessions, and catechisms came in. They taught me the Christian faith, as they have to millions of believers for generations.

But not only are Christians taught the faith through these documents, but they are also a means of protecting the believer from the church. Indeed, if I had known them when I became a believer I wouldn’t have wasted six years with the big-hair and loud-suits crew.

Many of these documents would not exist if it wasn't for church councils. Tim Challies does the church a good-turn through his series, 7 Councils. In it he provides the tale-of-the-tape (setting and purpose, major characters, the conflict, the result, and lasting significance) for the councils that were held from 325 AD, First Council of Nicaea, through 787 AD, Second Council of Nicaea. Here’s an excerpt regarding the significance of the First Council of Nicaea:

The First Council of Nicaea is most significant in settling an essential issue related to the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was decreed to be eternal and divine, equal with the Father, and infinitely greater than a created being. However, the Council is also significant as the first attempt to achieve a consensus among all Christians through a debate between representatives from the opposing sides. It set a precedent for holding councils to decide other doctrinal and practical church matters, and for turning these decisions into creeds and canon law.

You can read more on this council, and start the series, here.

--The Catechizer

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why We Argue - Part 1

“To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Christian heart; indeed, one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all. (Now, lest we be misled by words, let me say here that by ‘assertions’ I mean staunchly holding your ground, stating your position, confessing it, defending it and persevering in it unvanquished. . . . And I am talking about the assertion of what has been delivered to us from above in the Sacred Scriptures.”

(Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

What is an “Argument”?

By “assertions” Martin Luther means arguments. It was his Biblically-informed position that presenting arguments for the faith is a Christian’s duty. But what is an “argument”?

A good explanation of an argument is provided for us in The Philosopher’s Toolkit by Julian Baggini and Peter S. Fosl:

“An ‘argument’ is an inference from one or more starting points (truth claims called a ‘premise’ or ‘premises’) to an end point (a truth claim called a ‘conclusion’).”

Bagginin and Fosl further explain that as a “general rule . . . arguments attempt to demonstrate that something is true . . .” This is in juxtaposition to an explanation which is an “attempt to show how something is true.”

Providing Arguments vs. Being Argumentative

Providing an argument should be distinguished from being “argumentative,” which is characterized by being combative or quarrelsome. As Christians, we are to do the former not be the later.

But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.

(2 Tim. 2:23–25)

Stay tuned for Part 2!

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Giving Cliché-Free Thanks

It’s funny the “Christianisms” we pick up as we travel the road to Glory. Sometimes they’re words or phrases that we reflexively sprinkle in our conversations like salt on popcorn (“I felt led . . .”, “Have a blessed day!”, “Has Jesus come into your heart?”, etc.) I’ve been a Christian for more than 20 years, and a thinking Christian for more than 15, but I still fall prey to using clichés—and sometimes they’re clichés I don’t even understand!

For instance, what does it mean to ask God to “bless my food”? I don’t know, but I have to fight not to pray it. I’m giving thanks for His gracious provision, and then I inexplicably throw in this shibboleth. Why? Am I asking for Him to keep my cholesterol low once I’ve finished my Bacon Double Cheeseburger? Do I want Him to keep the Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream from contributing to my bottom line? Or am I asking that He protect me against any poisons my praegustator might have missed? Your guess is as good as mine.

Diane Bucknell, of Theology for Girls fame, offers some other thoughts on giving thanks and being thankful in her post, Should I Pray Over It. Here’s an excerpt:

We have a friend who used to say, “If it’s under 4 bucks you don’t need to pray over it”. . .

But do I bow my head and pray over a cup of coffee and pastry at Starbucks? Well.., no. Why? I don’t know. Maybe our friend’s humor made a subconscious impact on me.

Whether or not I choose to make a public display of my thankfulness to God may not be as important as making a habit of cultivating a heart that is grateful for everything. To my shame, I don't know how many times I’ve routinely bowed to give thanks over a meal either at home or in public only to resume griping about something right after saying “In Jesus name, amen.” . . .

You can read the entire post here.

--The Catechizer


Monday, January 20, 2014

Debate Tip: Reversing the Burden of Proof

When it comes to discussing any weighty topic with someone who differs, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned was to reverse the burden of proof. In other words, make the other person do the polemical heavy lifting. Not only does it make your job easier, but it also makes the other person reflect upon his own position (which most people haven’t done). Moreover, it keeps you in the driver’s seat and allows you to steer the conversation where you want it to go.


Conform yourself to God = Become part of His Catholic family on earth under the guidance of His appointed apostolic stewards, the Pope & bishops.

“Conform God to yourself = Myriads (10,000s) of Protestant denominations & individual churches; pick one suited to your own individual taste! Because it's all about you!! :)

Tony, a Roman Catholic, is asserting that Protestantism is wrong due to its multiplicity of denominations. Because of this he concludes that Rome is right. But instead of taking the bait I put the onus back on him:

Tony, I’m prepared to be convinced that I should abandon Protestantism and come to Rome, but I’ll need some questions answered first. We can start with this: you and I both accept the Scriptures as an authority. But you say that I must accept additional authorities (i.e., tradition, councils, and the Papacy). What evidence do you offer for these additional authorities?


The long-and-short-of-it is that the person making the claim has the responsibility to defend that claim. Tony wanted me to defend the fragmentation of Protestantism; he wanted to lead me down a path where he could show the superiority of Rome’s supposed unity over and against Protestantism’s apparent dishevelment. Accepting his terms would have left me at a disadvantage, especially since I wasn’t the one making the claim—he wanted me in the hot seat fielding his fly balls. But sometimes it’s better to rebuff than to refute. So my advice is to reverse the burden of proof, stay in the driver’s seat, and steer the conversation to the ground that allows you to make your best case.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Graceless Calvinism

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. . . . Self righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

John Newton

Jared Wilson warns us against graceless Calvinism over at Between Two Worlds. Here’s how he begins:

I have discussed with other Calvinists just where the (well-earned) stereotype of the graceless Calvinist comes from. Shouldn’t belief in total depravity necessitate profound humility? Shouldn’t belief in unconditional election preclude a spirit of superiority? And yet there is a doctrinal arrogance infecting Calvinist Christianity. This culture then produces doctrinaires like Baum’s man of tin: squeaky and heartless.

Cold-hearted rigidity is not limited to those of the Reformed persuasion, of course. You can find it in Christian churches and traditions and cultures of all kinds. In fact, to be fair, I have found that those most enthralled with the idea of gospel-wakefulness, those who seem most prone to champion the centrality of the gospel for life and ministry, happen to be of the Reformed persuasion. So there’s that. But gracelessness is never as big a disappointment, to me anyway, as when it’s found among those who call themselves Calvinists, because it’s such a big waste of Calvinism.

Why is it such a waste? Find out here.

--The Catechizer


Friday, January 17, 2014

How Much Does the Soul Weigh?

In case your subscription to the American Medicine journal has lapsed, you’ve missed the findings of Dr. Duncan MacDougall regarding the weight of the soul.

Published in 1907 (I’m a little behind in my reading), the journal records that Dr. MacDougall, son of a mortician, was able to measure weight change upon death. He did so by building a bed that doubled as a scale, and then by successively tucking-in six terminally ill patients.

By measuring their weight before, during, and after death, and by accounting for air, bodily fluids, etc, the good doctor was able to record a decrease in body weight of 21 grams. (He performed the same test on dogs, but recorded no such weight change—sorry Lassie.)

There you have it: the soul weighs 21 grams.

Modern Soul-Weighers

Dr. MacDougall’s study, and his subsequent attempt to X-Ray the soul, strikes us as silly today. It’s silly to the Christian because the category error is obvious: the soul can’t weigh anything because it isn’t physical (and it can’t be photographed because it’s shy). To the modern skeptic, the soul can’t weigh anything because it doesn’t exist—nothing immaterial exists.

The interesting thing is that today’s skeptics have more in common with Dr. MacDougall than they think.

Whatcha Talkn Bout, Willis?

Consider the following from mathematical physicist Casey Blood, Ph.D (no relation to the Errol Flynn character). . . .

. . . we need to sketch how the brain works. For our purposes, it consists of long nerve cells called neurons. Each neuron has a long branch on one end that receives electrochemical signals from other neurons, a cell body in the middle, and a second long branch on the other end that passes electrochemical signals on to other neurons. If the receiving end of a neuron receives enough input from other neurons, an electrochemical wave runs the length of the cell. In that case, the neuron is said to be “firing.” Each thought (or emotion or perception or initiation of a bodily action) corresponds to a particular set of firing neurons. So from a materialist’s point of view, we essentially are our pattern of firing neurons. (Emphasis in original.)

A key word in the explanation is “corresponds.” To the materialist, thoughts, emotions, intuitions, etc, are the firing neurons. But for those who believe in the existence of the soul, like Dr. Blood, “corresponds” is much more accurate. To put it another way, to the materialist there is only the brain. To those believing in an immaterial self, there is the mind and the brain, which work hand-in-hand; hence the use of “corresponds”: thoughts (produced by the mind) correspond with the firing synapses, but are not themselves the firing synapses or caused by the firing synapses.

What Does This Have to do With the Price of Butter?

There are a few problems with the “soul-weighing” being done by modern skeptics regarding thoughts. The first problem has to do with a reductive fallacy known as “Nothing-Buttery.” This fallacy is committed when you reduce something to one of its parts. For example, if I refer to my truck as “nothing but a bunch of nuts and bolts” I would be committing this fallacy, for my truck is much more than that.

Here’s another problem: If your thoughts are nothing but firing synapses, how could you know that without transcending it? For example, if I was a fish in a bowl, how would I know that without somehow transcending the bowl?

Also, if only material things exist, then our thoughts are material (i.e., extended into space). This brings us to another problem: Imagine a gold fish swimming in a fish bowl. How much does that thought weigh? How long is it? Moreover, if we cracked open your head, would we find the gold fish? If the materialists are right, we should find Mr. Limpet swimming around in there.


Thoughts are information, and information isn’t physical. If you grabbed today’s San Antonio Express-News and took it to the lab, you could determine all of the chemical and organic compounds that make up the paper—but none of that would ever tell you what it says. The information transcends the paper’s material constituents. Likewise, thoughts—and souls, for that matter—transcend our physical selves. Otherwise you might find Mr. Limpet hiding behind your Occipital Lobe.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Naturalism's God: Luck

We can accept a certain amount of luck in our explanations, but not too much…. We can allow ourselves the luxury of an extravagant theory [regarding the origin of life on our planet], provided that the odds of coincidence do not exceed 100 billion billion to one [10-20].

Richard Dawkins

Despite all of their intellectual and rhetorical smoke and mirrors, Darwinists are having to fess up: Luck is both the coin and the lever of the slot machine called Naturalism. Clay Jones, Associate Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, provides some startling quotes to this effect at his blog. Here’s how he kicks things off:

So how did the universe, and all the complexity we find in living things, arise? There are only two explanations: God or luck. Now, if the Darwinists are correct, this luck is operated on by natural selection but don’t let that fool you: natural selection is still working upon lucky mutations. For the naturalist luck is still at the bottom of the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the complexity found in living things. Naturalism is, at its core, based upon luck.

I’m going to just pass on some quotes with little commentary.

Try your luck and click here for the rest.

--The Catechizer


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Should We Seek Extra-Biblical Revelations?

One of the issues resolved by the Reformers was that of final authority, i.e., Are the Scriptures sufficient for doctrine and life? The Reformers, of course, answered in the affirmative. Louis Berkhof summarized their case as follows:

In Scripture each succeeding book connects up with the proceeding (except in contemporary narratives), and is based on it. The Psalms and the Prophets presuppose the Law and appeal to it, and to it only. The New Testament comes to us as the fulfillment of the Old and refers back to nothing else. Oral traditions current in the time of Jesus are rejected as human inventions, Matt. 5:21–28; 15:4, 9; I Cor. 4:6. Christ is presented to us as the acme of the divine revelation, the highest and the last, Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 17:4, 6; Heb. 1:1. For the knowledge of the way of salvation we are referred to Scripture only, to the word of Christ, and the apostles, John 17:20; I John 1:3 . . .

Both Rome and the Anabaptists rejected the sufficiency of Scripture. Rome put as Scripture’s rival her church councils and traditions, with the ultimate authority residing in the pope. The Anabaptists, however, had a low view of Scripture for other reasons: they sought guidance from an “inner light” and direct revelations from God, resolving that the Spirit worked apart from the Word because the Word was dead.


Renting the Spirit from the Word by claiming direct revelations from God was something the Reformers could not abide. For that reason, Martin Luther derisively referred to them as “swarmers” because they were “swarming everywhere, deranged by the devil, regarding Scripture as a dead letter, extolling nothing but the Spirit and yet keeping neither the Word nor the Spirit.”

Likewise, in speaking of the link between the Spirit and the Word, John Calvin wrote . . .

Two things are connected here, the Word and the Spirit of God, in opposition to the fanatics, who aim at oracles and hidden revelations apart from the Word.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men . . .

Westminster Confession, chapter 1, article 6(a)

The confession states that everything we need to know for doctrine and life is either expressly or by consequence set forth in Scripture. Moreover, because it is the “whole counsel of God” there is nothing left to be revealed in this life. In other words, the Scriptures are sufficient for all men at all times and therefore can’t be added to.

Incomplete to the Complete

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son. . .

Hebrews 1:1-2

The writer of Hebrews juxtaposes the patriarchs and prophets to Christ. The point being that their writings were partial, incomplete; this is why there was a succession of prophets and books of the Bible. Christ, however, being the pinnacle of revelation, was truth in its entirety (John 14:6; Col. 2:9).

No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.

John 15:15

All that the Father wanted revealed was made known to the Biblical writers. This information, and only this information (Jn. 21:25), was later codified into the Scriptures by the work of the Spirit (Jn. 14:26). It is this completed, inscripturated word that is to be taught (I Tim. 4:13), and it is by this completed work of revelation that we are fully equipped:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Furthermore, because God’s revelatory work is complete, we are able to proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), and we are able to rest in the knowledge that what we have in the Scriptures is “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)

Modern Swarmers

Modern “swarmers” abound. Some, like Harold Camping, Pat Robertson, or the late David Wilkerson, are well known to us, and so is the shame they brought on the body of Christ because of their claims of revelations. But these “God whispers” don’t only occupy leadership roles in major ministries, nor do they only fill the gaudy stages of “Christian” TV programs. Pentecostals, Charismatics, and many Evangelicals seek revelations apart from Scripture. For those seeking these revelations I have two things I’d like you to consider:

First, think about what you’re saying when you say something like, “God spoke to me,” or “God is giving me a word for you,” or, as a former “pastor” of mine would say mid-sermon, “Yes, yes, lord, I’ll say that.” God doesn’t take kindly to those who claim to be speaking on His behalf when He has not spoken. As a matter of fact, this crime is so heinous that, in Old Testament times, God commanded that the offenders be put to death (Deut. 13, 18:20-22, 13:12-13; Ez. 13:1-9; Zech. 13:3).

Second, what’s wrong with the revelation that He already provided? Considering the case made above, why do you think the Scriptures are incomplete? Why are they not sufficient for you? Instead of seeking a new “word,” how about mastering the revelation you’ve been provided (2 Tim. 2:15)?


All those seeking extra-Biblical revelations must stop trying to find a back door to God (or, as Martin Luther put it, stop trying to view God in the nude). God has spoken, and still speaks, through the Bible—and those same Scriptures remain sufficient for doctrine and life. Not the Spirit working apart from the Word, but the Spirit working through the Word.

The Bible is something more than a body of revealed truths, a collection of books verbally inspired of God. It is also the living voice of God. The living God speaks through its pages. Therefore, it is not to be valued as a sacred object to be placed on a shelf and neglected, but as holy ground, where people’s hearts and minds may come into vital contact with the living, gracious and disturbing God. . . .

James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, pg 48

--The Catechizer

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Was Jesus Against Capital Punishment?

The United Methodist Church declares its opposition to the retention and use of capital punishment and urges its abolition. In spite of a common assumption to the contrary, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," does not give justification for the imposing of the penalty of death. Jesus explicitly repudiated retaliation (Matthew 5:38-39), and the Talmud denies its literal meaning and holds that it refers to financial indemnities.

United Methodist Church, In Opposition
to Capital Punishment

Oftentimes, when capital punishment is being discussed, Jesus’ remarks regarding “an eye-for-an-eye” are pressed into service. When coupled with the “turn the other check” passage, capital punishment abolitionists believe that they’re holding a biblical wining hand.

But is it the case that Jesus was either rejecting capital punishment or setting the record straight (i.e., that eye-for-an-eye doesn’t apply to the death penalty)? Likewise, is “turn the other check” a condemnation of capital punishment and a call to passivism?

What is “Eye-for-an-Eye?”

38) “You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.'

39) "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Matthew 5:38-39

In figuring out what Jesus meant, we should first see what he was referencing. The relevant passages are Ex. 21:12–36, Lev. 24:17–23, and Deut. 19:14–21. In these passages God is laying out a principle of justice: the punishment should fit the crime. This would, of course, include financial matters, as the United Methodist Church (UMC) suggests. But to say that God is only interested in justice when it comes to commerce makes God the moral equivalent of It's a Wonderful Life's Mr. Potter.

Contrary to the claim of the UMC, God’s perfect moral character requires justice in all matters, including the most heinous crime committed against man.

Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.

Genesis 9:6

Did Jesus Overturn This Principle?

For Jesus to reject an “eye-for-an-eye” means that He would reject the principle that the punishment should fit the crime. The question abolitionists need to answer is, “Is it your understanding that Jesus taught that the punishment should not fit the crime? Do you believe that Jesus rejected justice?” Indeed, such a teacher would be profoundly immoral.

Did Jesus Reject the Capital Punishment?

God established the death penalty.
Jesus is God.
Therefore, Jesus established the death penalty.

The logic of the above syllogism is inescapable. The only way around it is to show that one of the two premises is false: either God didn’t establish the death penalty or Jesus isn’t God. Of course, if one takes the Scriptures seriously, then neither can be rejected.

With murder, there is one more thing that must be considered beyond just the “eye-for-an-eye” principle. As Genesis 6:9 points out, man is made in the image of God. Consequently, murder is not simply taking a man’s life—it’s destroying the very image of God. This profoundly compounds the sin.

So, the second question we must ask is, “Is man no longer God’s image bearer? Or, if he is, is it now no big deal to destroy that image?”

As with the earlier questions regarding the rejection of justice, these questions too cannot be answered in the affirmative.

What Jesus’ Words Do Not Mean?

First, what they don’t mean. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses personal pronouns, such as “You are the salt of the earth,” Let your light shine,” For truly I say to you,” and, in the passage in question, “But I say to you.” This is important because it shows that He is addressing His immediate hearers and us (i.e., individuals). He is not talking to the government. Therefore, He’s not telling the government to turn the other check. Furthermore, the New Testament affirms the state’s right, as God’s minister, to execute judgment via the sword (Rom. 13:4; Acts 25:11). And since the New Testament came from Jesus, He affirms the state’s right to carryout capital punishment.

It also isn’t a call to passivism. Even the most cursory reading of the Old Testament will reveal that God isn’t a pacifist. Moreover, Jesus, who is God incarnate, instructed His disciples to arm themselves for journey (Luke 22:36). Why were they to buy a sword, even if it meant selling their garment? Answer: For self defense along the dangerous Roman highways. And, let us not forget what happened when the Temple Guard came to arrest Jesus:

50) And Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you have come for." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.

51) And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear.

52) Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.

Matthew 26:50-52

Jesus didn’t respond, “Hey! Where did you get that thing? How long have you been carrying that? Get rid of it before it kills us all!” Instead, he told Peter to return it to its sheath, followed by the instruction that this was an inappropriate time for its use.

There’s one other problem with the pacifistic interpretation, and that’s with its application. Let’s say someone breaks into your house and steals one of your children. Do you offer the intruder your other child as well?

What Do Jesus’ Words Mean

I’m partial to an interpretation I heard from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason. Since most people are right handed, how would someone slap you on the right cheek? He would do so by slapping you with the back of his hand. A back-handed slap is not meant to injure, but to insult. And let us not forget that when Jesus was struck by one of the temple guards, He did not turn the other cheek. Instead, He inquired as to the justice of the action (John 18:22–23).

“Turn the other cheek” is not a call to passivity, nor is it an overturning of the principle that the punishment should fit the crime (including capital punishment). It seems that what Jesus is actually calling us to do is to bear insults and to not respond in kind, just like in the verses following Mat. 5:39 where we are instructed to bear other such personal affronts.

The UMC would do well to reconsider their opposition.

--The Catechizer

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ten Principles of Church Singing

O For a Thousand tongues or The Whippoorwill Song? An organ and a choir or drums and electric guitars? How do you choose what is appropriate for corporate worship? To help answer these questions, Kevin DeYoung offers 10 general principles to consider. Here they are in summary:

  1. Love is indispensable to church singing that pleases God.

  2. Our singing is for God’s glory and the edification of the body of Christ.

  3. We ought to sing to the Lord new songs.

  4. Church singing should swim in its own history of church singing.

  5. Sing the Psalms.

  6. We should strive for excellence in the musicality and the poetry of the songs we sing.

  7. The main sound to be heard in the worship music is the sound of the congregation singing.

  8. The congregation should also be stretched from time to time to learn new songs and broaden its musical horizons.

  9. The texts of our songs should be matched with fitting musicality and instrumentation.

  10. All of our songs should employ manifestly biblical lyrics.

You can read a full explanation of each here.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, January 11, 2014

What is the Will of the Father?

In Matthew 7:21-23 we find our Lord saying that not everyone who claims Christ are actually His. He contrasts them with those “who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” But what is the will of the Father? Committed Christian seeks to answers this question over at Against the Current:

This passage ought to produce in professing Christians a desire to examine oneself to see whether they are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). This passage speaks to the possibility that some professing Christians are self-deceived regarding their salvation. The people who will say, “Lord, Lord” believe that they have a close relationship with God. There are several passages in the Bible that a name is spoken twice by someone to indicate a close (perceived) relationship. There is the instance when God spoke from the burning bush, “Moses, Moses” (Exo 3:4). Jesus with Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41). Also, most notably when Jesus was hanging on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt 27:46)?

Those that Jesus spoke about who will be saying, “Lord, Lord”, outwardly look like true believers. They performed miracles, cast out demons, and even prophesied in His name. However, the Lord Jesus calls them “workers of lawlessness”. They did not truly know the Lord. Where did they go wrong? I believe that the answer is contained in Jesus statement, “but the one who does the will of my heavenly Father who is in heaven” will enter the kingdom of heaven. What is the will of the Father? To produce works of righteousness that flow out of love which originates from true repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone?

Some may be asking, “What is true faith?” The Heidelberg Catechism puts it well in response to Question 21, “What is true faith?”, by saying, “True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits.”

You can read the rest of the post here.

--The Catechizer


Friday, January 10, 2014

Today in Church History: Gordon H. Clark

In the January 10, 1945 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian, Gordon H. Clark labeled the OPC a "sectarian oddity."

In Clark's article, "Blest River of Salvation," he accused the 8 year-old Orthodox Presbyterian Church of diverting its chief emphasis away from opposition to Modernism. As a result, the church had "earned an unenviable reputation" and "assumed the position of an isolationist porcupine." An editorial in that same issue defended the testimony of the church as well as the work of the Guardian and Westminster Seminary. Within a few years, Clark and sympathizers would leave the OPC, an exodus that included churches in Quarryville and Willow Grove, PA.

John Muether


Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Covenant of Grace

The Reformation Theology sites posts a great excerpt on the Covenant of Grace from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Here’s how it begins . . .

1. Essential Elements. When man failed to obtain the blessing offered in the covenant of works, it was necessary for God to establish another means, one by which man could be saved. The rest of Scripture after the story of the fall in Genesis 3 is the story of God working out in history the amazing plan of redemption whereby sinful people could come into fellowship with himself. Once again, God clearly defines the provisions of a covenant that would specify the relationship between himself and those whom he would redeem. In these specifications we find some variation in detail throughout the Old and New Testaments, but the essential elements of a covenant are all there, and the nature of those essential elements remains the same throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The parties to this covenant of grace are God and the people whom he will redeem. But in this case Christ fulfills a special role as “mediator” (Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24) in which he fulfills the conditions of the covenant for us and thereby reconciles us to God. (There was no mediator between God and man in the covenant of works.) The condition (or requirement) of participation in the covenant is faith in the work of Christ the redeemer (Rom. 1:17; 5:1; et al.). This requirement of faith in the redemptive work of the Messiah was also the condition of obtaining the blessings of the covenant in the Old Testament, as Paul clearly demonstrates through the examples of Abraham and David (Rom. 4:1–15). They, like other Old Testament believers, were saved by looking forward to the work of the Messiah who was to come and putting faith in him.

You can read the entire excerpt here.

--The Catechizer

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Tolerant of Intolerance

From The Wittenberg Door archives . . .

Chris Broussard of ESPN recently had the audacity and gall to assert that homosexuality is clearly denounced as sin in the Scriptures. As expected, he was vilified as a homophobic, bigoted, hateful, intolerant Christian. It seems like you can only be labeled tolerant if you agree with whatever popular society purports as acceptable. To have the brazenness to uphold historical, orthodox Christian views with regard to sexuality is to be automatically dismissed as dated and close-minded. Here is a transcript of his original comments made on ESPN:

"I'm a Christian. I don't agree with homosexuality. I think it's a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. [ESPN's] L.Z. [Granderson] knows that. He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years. We've gone out, had lunch together, we've had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don't criticize him, he doesn't criticize me, and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant.

"In talking to some people around the league, there's a lot Christians in the NBA and just because they disagree with that lifestyle, they don't want to be called bigoted and intolerant and things like that. That's what LZ was getting at. Just like I may tolerate someone whose lifestyle I disagree with, he can tolerate my beliefs. He disagrees with my beliefs and my lifestyle but true tolerance and acceptance is being able to handle that as mature adults and not criticize each other and call each other names.

"... Personally, I don't believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly premarital sex between heterosexuals, if you're openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that's a sin. If you're openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be, I believe that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I do not think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian."

Mr. Broussard defended his Christian convictions here in this hostile (and crude) interview:

--The Deacon


Monday, January 06, 2014

First Amendment Abuse

From The Wittenberg Door archives . . .

Beginning in 1998, the Utah Highway Patrol Association begin erecting monuments to fallen patrolmen along the Utah highways. The monuments are in the shape of a cross and include the fallen officer's picture and biographical information. Although the monuments, 14 in all, are privately funded, they are on public land since that is where the officers fell. The State of Utah allowed the monuments to be erected, but did provide the caveat that it "neither approves or disapproves of the memorial marker."

A group of Texas atheists sued to have the memorials taken down. In response a federal court ruled in the atheists' favor and declared the memorials unconstitutional. From CNN . . .

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the 14 large crosses would be viewed by most passing motorists as "government's endorsement of Christianity."

"We hold that these memorials have the impermissible effect of conveying to the reasonable observer the message that the state prefers or otherwise endorses a certain religion," concluded the Denver, Colorado-based court . . .

At issue was whether the crosses violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, by having the government endorsing the Christian symbols, even if indirectly.

(A quick side note regarding the Utah ruling. There is something that strikes me as amusing: Mormons reject the cross as a symbol. So, a state founded by Mormons for Mormons, and remains predominately Mormon to this day, is, according to the court, now embracing the cross and endorsing Christianity. Riiiiiiiiight.)

The First Amendment

Whether ruling on school prayer, or the teaching of Intelligent Design, or the displaying of the Ten Commandments, or even these memorial crosses, the courts seem intent on using the Establishment Clause (or, more properly, the Non-Establishment Clause) to justify the disallowing of certain perceived religious, particularly Christian, expressions. But was it indeed the intent of the Founding Fathers to have a public square bereft of religion? In other words, were they trying to protect the state against the church? Let’s begin by reviewing the amendment in question:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(First Amendment - Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression)

Original Intent

America was established as a Christian nation (i.e., founded with Christian values), but with a secular government. Part of that was to reject the European model of state churches. Back in 1791, the year the First Amendment was ratified, 9 of the 13 state governments had official, tax-supported churches. Since the amendment was seen as only applying to the federal government, nobody believed that there was any conflict—nobody, that is, except for Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut.

The Connecticut state constitution endorsed Congregationalism. Although the Baptists were tolerated, they had serious concerns about discrimination; they were also concerned that the state government would start interfering with the operation of the church. So, in 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association took a bold step and wrote the newly elected President of the United States—Thomas Jefferson.

Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty – That Religion is at all times and places a Matter between God and Individuals – That no man ought to suffer in Name, person or effects on account of his religious Opinions – That the legitimate Power of civil Government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbour: But Sir our constitution of government is not specific. Our antient charter, together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted as the Basis of our government at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws & usages, & such still are; that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation; & therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those who seek after power & gain under the pretence of government & Religion should reproach their fellow men – should reproach their chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion Law & good order because he will not, dares not assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.

Jefferson agreed with the Baptists that it was inappropriate for the state to interfere with maters of conscience, faith, and worship. In his reply to the Baptists he penned the famous words:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Our Founding Fathers were careful to guard against the establishment of a state (federal) church, hence this amendment—they stipulated that congress may not establish a state church, nor infringe upon the citizens' right to worship as they please. Here's my question: How do these memorials to fallen officers establish an official, state-sponsored church of the United States? Same question for offering alternatives to macro-evolution, or allowing school prayer, or a plaque displaying the Ten Commandments. They obviously don't.


Although a cross is a religious symbol, it has been co-opted for secular purposes--to be a grave marker or a memorial. The Ten Commandments are given by God and thus have a religious origin. But they are also the grounds for our justice system and so have been likewise co-opted. Macro-evolution is a theory, despite how it is taught in our schools, with many problems. Intelligent Design answers those problems; because of its explanatory power, it should at least be acknowledged when origins are being taught.

The truth is that the courts misuse the amendment to discriminate against positions they don't like. The intention of the Founding Fathers couldn't be more clear, but these judges aren't interested in that--they'd rather use the Constitution as a wax nose to refashion the country to their liking. Why let truth get in the way?

--The Catechizer

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Sunday, January 05, 2014

Today in Church History: Henry Sloane Coffin

On January 5, 1877, Henry Sloane Coffin was born in Manhattan.
Educated at Yale and at Union Seminary in New York, Coffin pastored Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church from 1905 to 1926, when he became president of Union Seminary, where he served until 1946.

Coffin "loved New York and accepted the patrician responsibility of advancing its welfare," according to historian Bradley Longfield. A self-proclaimed "liberal evangelical," Coffin was a prominent voice in the liberal New York Presbytery throughout the Presbyterian controversy in the early twentieth-century, and he defended the Presbytery's liberty to ordain men who denied the virgin birth of Christ. His threat to lead a walk-out of liberals from the 1925 General Assembly was narrowly avoided when moderator Charles Erdman convened the Special Commission to examine the unrest in the church. That Commission eventually exonerated the New York Presbytery and the signers of the Auburn Affirmation. According to Time magazine, "Dr. Coffin went to the [1925] General Assembly, as he had gone before, one of the many commissioners from the Presbytery of New York. He returned the acknowledged leader of the liberal elements of his church."

Nearly two decades later, in 1943, the General Assembly elected Coffin as moderator, further symbolizing the triumph of liberalism in the PCUSA. Coffin passed away in 1954.

- John Muether


Saturday, January 04, 2014

What is “Molinism” and Why Should I Care?

Molinism is a view of Predestination that plays on God’s knowledge of counter-factuals or “middle knowledge” (if Horatio did this, then that would have happened). It’s a doctrinal temptation by those holding to some form of Semipalagianism, whether that be your garden-variety Evangelical or your dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholic. Because this view is being promoted by various popular Christian thinkers, such as doctors William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, Francis Beckwith, and J.P. Moorland, it’s important to understand the view. Dr. Paul Helm explains this position at the Ligonier blog:

What is middle knowledge? At the center of this recent interest has been God’s knowledge of possibilities involving human choice (the ‘counterfactuals of freedom’ as they have been called). Why this innovation? Its proponents are concerned to preserve what they consider to be two vital beliefs. The first is God’s providence and total foreknowledge. The second is the idea that human beings are ineradicably free in an indeterministic sense. When we speak of indeterministic freedom, we mean that any human being, in a given set of circumstances, has the power to choose A or to choose not-A. The problem is obvious. How can this be consistent with God’s universal providential rule and his purposes of redemption?

The Molinists’ way of attempting to keep all this together was to suggest that there existed, besides God’s natural knowledge and his free knowledge, a third kind of knowledge. They argued that God also has “middle knowledge” (between the other two). What this means can be briefly explained. Given a whole array of possible worlds (that God knows), given worlds in which men and women were free in the relevant indeterministic sense, God knows what they would freely choose in every possible circumstance. God has knowledge of all such possible outcomes. If placed in one set of circumstances, God knows what Jones would freely choose. If placed in another set of circumstances, God knows what Jones would freely choose. This is true for all possible people and all possible circumstances. God has this middle knowledge by inspection of all the possibilities that the free will of each person might choose.

Click here to read further about this position and to see the doctrinal problems with it.

PS. Molinism posits that God chose our world out of all of the possible worlds because it contains the greatest number of people who would freely choose Christ. Here’s the problem: The Bible doesn’t speak of God electing worlds. Instead, it clearly teaches that God elects individuals (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:4; 2 Thes. 2:13-14; Due. 10:14-15; Psm. 33:12, 65:4, 106:5; Mat. 11:27, 22:14; Mark 13:20; Rom. 11:28; Col. 3:12; 1 Thes. 5:9; 1 Pet. 2:8-9; Rev. 17:14). In other words, the Scriptures teach that God elected me, not this world.

--The Catechizer


Friday, January 03, 2014

A little Levity: Church Bulletin Bloopers

The following actually appeared in church bulletins, or were announced in church services:

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.

The sermon this morning: "Jesus Walks on the Water." The sermon tonight: "Searching for Jesus."

Our youth basketball team is back in action Wednesday at 8 PM in the recreation hall. Come out and watch us kill Christ the King.

Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands.

The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to a conflict.

Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community.

Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say "Hell" to someone who doesn't care much about you.

Don't let worry kill you off -- let the Church help.

Miss Charlene Mason sang "I will not pass this way again," giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.

For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What Is HELL"? Come early and listen to our choir.

Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.

Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment, and gracious hostility.

Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.

The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.

Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B.S. is done.

The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.

Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.

The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM . The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new tithing campaigns slogan last Sunday: "I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours."

The Men's Fellowship will gather at 7pm for a baked bean supper; Music will follow.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, January 02, 2014

Lies My Pastor Told Me

During a recent virtual spelunking expedition (surfing the Web), I ran across this gem: “Lies My Pastor Told Me.” I believe I encountered each of these false doctrines, in one form or another, during my wanderings in the spiritual wilderness from Egypt (non-belief and early post-conversion years) to the Promised Land (orthodox, historical biblical Christianity). Pastor Cole Brown, of Emmaus Church in Portland, Oregon, wrote this short book based on his experiences as a young believer. Here’s the list (parenthetical comments added):

  1. Don’t Put Your Mouth on the Man of God (don’t touch God’s anointed)

  2. The Bible is God’s Rulebook

  3. This (The local church building) is God’s House

  4. I Feel the Spirit (moving)

  5. I Have Peace About this Decision

  6. God Wants You to Be Rich

  7. That (that, or the other) Will Make You Sin

  8. Speak (or be careful not to speak) it Into Existence

  9. You’re Not Filled with the Holy Spirit if You Don’t Speak in Tongues

  10. That’s the Devil

  11. God Heals All Who Have Faith

  12. You Have a Generational Curse

  13. She’s Not Anointed

  14. Just Believe God

  15. Doctrine is Dangerous

You can download the free e-book (in PDF format) from Monergism.com here.

--The Deacon